Thursday, October 27, 2011

Business and the Breast

This is a first draft. I expect to be editing it in the near future
      The other night, I gave a presentation to the Board of Directors for our church.  It was a very important meeting regarding the future status of our organization. I saw it as a professional presentation and was treated with respect and deference throughout. 

      I also breastfed throughout.

      There was a time when I probably would've seen breastfeeding and professional situations as mutually exclusive. Now, I see no reason for such a crowbar separation of my statuses as a mother and a professional.
If I'm perfectly capable of giving a speech or presentation with a baby in a carrier or even breastfeeding, why shouldn't I?

      The typical answer for that is because it might make OTHER people uncomfortable. And you know what? Bite me. If breastfeeding makes you uncomfortable, that's YOUR problem, not mine. The fact that our culture's views on breastfeeding are skewed and completely screwed up is a well documented one. And the only way to overcome this weird and unnatural "problem" our culture has with breastfeeding is to get out there and DO it.

      So I do. Sure, there may have been members of the board who were uncomfortable with Flintstone breastfeeding while I spoke, but if they were, they didn't say anything. They recognized that breastfeeding is natural and normal and that any discomfort on their part was something for them to overcome. They recognized that Flintstone breastfeeding did not have any impact on the content of my presentation at all.

      At work, I pump twice a day, and everyone knows what my infamous cow sign means. I've never had a real problem with pumping at work. I have breastfed at work, but not "openly," mostly because the uniform makes it more difficult to do discreetly and rank issues make things a little more complicated. I HAVE breastfed at military functions in civilian attire.

      BUT (of course there's a but) it's not always easy. There are plenty of obstacles and frustrations, both internal and external. There are silly little things like when the Lieutenant below me told the Major above me (who wasn't my biggest fan at the time - probably because I make a point of being open about such "female" things as breastfeeding and mothering) that I couldn't process a certain doc right away because, "Capt T is currently lactating."

      There are slightly bigger things that really piss me off. Today, for example.

      Whenever I know I'll be spending most of a day anywhere, I call ahead to make pumping arrangements. My TAD trip to the JAG school was no different. And after I made the call, I didn't think there'd be any issue. The LTCOL I spoke to was immediately understanding and said he'd put me in touch with a female who would set me up with a room and whatnot. Great.

      I found that woman immediately Monday morning, and she showed me the office I could use. Then she spent 10 minutes explaining how to lock the door to me over, and over, and over again.

      I could see it: that twitch at the corner of her fake smile. She was not ok with even the mere IDEA of me pumping breastmilk. But she didn't say anything. Then. Later, after I had pumped, I put the two bags of milk - double-zip, reinforced breastmilk storage bags, into my little bottle cooler and walked past this woman to put the milk into the office fridge.

      She sputtered. She looked chagrined. She clearly wanted to find a way to stop me from putting the milk in the fridge (it's milk; where the eff else would I put it?!). "That has to be in a sealed container." I explained to her that it was, and put the milk in the fridge. Note: When I called ahead, I had made clear my need to use a fridge.

      Oh, and access to a fridge for breast milk is FEDERALLY MANDATED. Ahem.

      The rest of the week, I walked back and forth in front of her icy smile to pump every day. I tried to be super pleasant. She remained fake and icy. Whatever. Then, today, after 4 days(!), when I got to put my little cooler in the fridge, she tells me "someone" complained, and I have to seal the cooler before putting it in the fridge because "no one wants to see that."


      I don't seal the cooler because that defeats the purpose of putting it in the fridge. And, ohbytheway, you can't see the milk inside the little cooler unless you look down inside it. AND there is no reason why anyone else would even KNOW it's breastmilk.

      It's not like this is some super strict fridge. There is plenty of food not in sealed containers. There is tons of stuff in clear containers - INCLUDING COW MILK!!! But MY milk is this big scary deal.

      "No one wants to see that." Seriously? This is a school for military attorneys. We are routinely exposed to all manner of blood and gore, not to mention the details of heinous crimes and even photos and videos of such. But they can't even handle SEEING breastmilk? Please.

      Those people need serious psychological help. I'm not kidding. So I'm pissed. And when the course is over, you can be damned sure I'll be filing a complaint.

      But I'm also a little glad this woman is such a screwed up imbicile. Because now I'm too busy being angry to bother with the tiny nagging guilt that still plagues me.

      The guilt that says I'm inconveniencing people. The guilt that says that since for two 15 minute periods a day I have my office door closed and no one can come it that I'm slacking at work. The guilt about making people feel uncomfortable - even though I know full well it is unreasonable for them to feel that way! And then more guilt for going back on what I know is right by allowing this guilt in. It's a vicious cycle. Welcome to being female in the US.

      No woman should have to feel guilty about combining her desire to do the best she can for her children with her desire to make a difference as a working professional. I CAN do both, and have for over a year. I SHOULD be able to do more. I don't see any reason why, if I CAN competently perform my job, public or not, while wearing and breastfeeding my baby, I shouldn't do that.

      I see in my dreams a brave new world where there are babies on the breast at board meetings and professors leading lectures with babies on their backs. So long as the job is still getting done well, everyone else can deal with it and accept the fact that mothering is a natural part of life, not a handicap.

      I am a skilled professional, and I am a breastfeeding mother. I am both. At the same time.


CanadianMama said...

I am pro-nursing and I've done it in public lots. I've always used a cover and tried to find a discreet area. I know many a woman who doesn't use a cover and nurses anywhere she wants to. I applaud their confidence BUT, (and here's where I may get hate mail) it makes me uncomfortable. And it's not that they are nursing, it's that I can see their nipple. It makes me super uncomfortable to see another woman's private parts.

I used to do training for new foster parents in one of my old jobs. One of the new foster parents would just whip her boob out and nurse. No cover, no modesty. Once her son was on I didn't care because she was covered, but I hated when he was done. I guess for me it was because I didn't know how to act. Should I look away (I didn't want to see her giant nipples) or should I continue to talk to her. Had she have said something like "just so you know I will probably have to nurse him and I don't have a cover. I'm really comfortable nursing in public so don't feel awkward" or something like that I would have felt better.

Anyways, this novel has NOTHING to do with your post so I'm gonna stop now. Oh, and all the power to you woman. No one should get offended by looking at breast milk - lame!

Katherine said...

Good for you.

My job is a lot harder to breast feed at. Most of my work is in areas that children are not allowed (for very good reason) and my patients require my full attention. Getting breaks (even short ones) is not always possible. A lot of the women who have had babies in the last year have not been able to breast feed very long, not because they didn't want to, but because our schedules and line of work make it so difficult. I also know that a lot of my friends feel terribly guilty about the fact they weren't able to breastfeed longer, which I also think is terrible. We're had long talks where basically I tell them that our lives as stressful and hard enough that feeling guilty about this is just not worth it. Because guess what? Their babies will also grow up to be healthy, happy, smart, loved children. Which in the end is all that matters.

But dang, why does it have to be so hard?

(And now I'm done with my novel.)

Kate said...

Good job sticking to your guns. We all need to be tough, breastfeeding mamas! I feel the same way. I breastfed in a crowded Starbucks the other day, and told a guy to go put a blanket over his head if he didn't like it. That shut him up!

MiMi said...

You can and should totally do this. Hopefully people will follow you and we can see this change in our lifetime! :)

Diandra said...

What's her problem? I bet she has seen milk before.

Most mothers I know breastfeed in public. They don't make a show of it, but they don't cover up either. Mostly, they sit in a quiet corner and just do it. And I have never seen anyone complain. Weird looks - okay, but if we held back because of weird looks *every time*, we'd never get anything important done.

Having said that, I once overheard a guy saying that breastfeeding in public, for him, amounted to taking a dump where everybody could see. But breathing or blowing your nose was fine, obviously.


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